This summer’s “Batman Begins” reinvigorated the franchise by starting from scratch. Its debut on DVD is joined by the massive 8-disc box set “Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology, 1989-1997,” which contains the four films that began Warner’s lucrative series more than 15 years ago. Although verging on overkill, the bonus features give Bat-fans a great reason for skipping work and staying glued to the tube for hours.
The box set includes two-disc sets of each of the first four pics, featuring directors’ commentaries on each film, and 18 hours of extras — most actually worth watching, although there is some inevitable overlap.
Each director stresses he was assigned to re-invent the onscreen character, even though there has never been an unsuccessful film or tube Bat-adaptation.
In his informative commentary for 1989’s “Batman,” Tim Burton explains he wanted to present the Caped Crusader as a dark loner in order to get away from the familiar “Biff! Bang! Pow!” camp of the ’60s skein. Burton darkened the formula further on 1992’s “Batman Returns,” adding elements of a macabre funhouse to the spectacle, and his commentary makes it clear he was really using a mega-budget blockbuster to craft a highly personal film about the duality inherent in everyone (especially superheroes, super villains and film directors).
By 1995’s “Batman Forever,” Burton was replaced by Joel Schumacher, who set the pic, as well as the lamentable “Batman and Robin” (1997), in a neon-lit roller disco version of Gotham City. In his commentaries, Schumacher offers a winning sense of humor and defends the pics against accusations that they’re too childish.
The box set’s many documentaries provide an extended tour of the long-running character, the behind-the-scenes aspects of each pic, and the Dark Knight’s other on-screen incarnations.
Fans will enjoy footage of Batman creator Bob Kane on the set of the first film. Also included are storyboards of an abandoned sequence that would have introduced Robin in the first pic, instead of the third.
The separately released “Batman Begins” includes multiple making-of docus that stress helmer Christopher Nolan’s and scribe David Goyer’s desire to be faithful to the comics and present Batman in a realistic and believable light. The discs offer insight into the character’s printed past (and even comes with a mini-comic featuring three stories that inspired the script). However, for filmmakers who are that interested in their subject, it’s odd there are no audio commentaries.